Ah, the 'casual' trip to the bookstore. The sort where you promise to yourself before making that spontaneous sharp turn inside that this time, you're not there to buy another book. That this time, you'll only browse, see what's new.
What sabotages that plan immediately? When you pick up an unassuming Steinbeck novel and flip to the first page to read the opening.
The first time this happened to me, it was Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat.
This is the story of Danny and of Danny’s friends and of Danny’s house. It is a story of how these three became one thing, so that in Tortilla Flat if you speak of Danny’s house you do not mean a structure of wood flaked with old whitewash, overgrown with an ancient untrimmed rose of Castile. No, when you speak of Danny’s house you are understood to mean a unit of which the parts are men, from which came sweetness and joy, philanthropy and, in the end, a mystic sorrow.
I resisted. I went home. But these first lines continued to haunt and bother me to the point where I had to make my way to a bookstore immediately the next day to see what followed.
It happened again recently - this time, with Cannery Row.
Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gambler and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen” and he would have meant the same thing.
I knew better than to resist this one. I bought this one immediately.